The orange and lemon blossoms are out in full force. The air is so sweet, it makes you want to walk around with your mouth open. The lemon trees took a short break from production over the last month but they are loaded with blossoms and buds and soon, we will have fresh crop of the most delicious organic citrus!
While I was in the states, Dave and the crew revived the egg run in the Greenhouse. This is where trays of our fertilized trout eggs will develop into frye. They're kept in screened boxes, in constantly running, temperature monitored, fresh river water. Its a gravity driven system.
Development from egg to frye is a science.
The ideal temperature for rainbow trout is 55 degrees F. The incubator trough has covers on it, to keep both creatures and sunlight out. If kept at this temp, we should see hatchlings in roughly three weeks.
Each hen is anticipated to release 2000 eggs per kilo of her own weight.
Our hens are ready to spawn. We keep them in our sediment ponds which is the first stop after the river. Several hens are trying to swim upstream to release their eggs. The males are right alongside them . The female's abdomens are obviously distended and they are ready to be 'milked'.
This is the process where we apply a slight amount of pressure to the abdomen of the female so she will release the eggs. The males are then milked for the fertilization process.
Peter and Jo's hillside casita is almost complete! There have been a few modifications to the plan recently, including the addition of an outdoor tub/shower. The view is phenominal and we are excited to have this addition to Hush Valley. Here are a few updated photos!
Tomorrow is Election day, April fools Day AND Easter Sunday here in Costa Rica. The election is the second of the year. Each candidate must have 40 % of the vote in order to become president. Earlier this year, there was the General election and 13 people ran for President. The most candidates in the history of the country. Wisely, Costa Rica has been edging away from a two party system. The top two candidates of that election then had to have a run off election, which occurs tomorrow. This is a very pivotal election when considering the politics each candidate represents.
Voting is much like it used to be in the States.
You must be present and in your registered district to vote, and you must show identification to prove you are a citizen.
The voting stations are normally at the local grade school and/or community center.
No late ballots are accepted.
I'll be in attendance as a bystander tomorrow, supporting my friends, and hoping the man with the best interests of Costa Rica, and it's citizens, wins the priviledge to lead this amazing country into the future.
More fun this week with visitors from the South of France! Christine, Olivier, Clara and Guillaume joined us for several days.
We enjoyed showing them what the central mountain region has to offer - including Abel and Elly's dairy, the coffee roaster, the organic farm, and the trout process.
Guillaume proved himself to be an excellent fisherman, catching a big beautiful Hush Valley trout!
We took a moment to enjoy the view from Santa Cecelia- that's Copey down below.
More progress on the hillside this week- its really looking great! With any luck, this casita should be open for reservations by the end of April.
Wonder who will be the first guests?
Dave and Martin headed back to the fish farm for 5000 more little fellas. Hopefully this will be one of the last trips to the fish farm, as our hens (female trout) eggs should be ready to harvest. Next week, Ill have pictures of the improvements and improvisions the guys have made to the hatchery, to get it operational again. Its pretty cool!
This past week, we got the fingerlings transferred into the bigger ponds to encourage them to grow. There were 7500 fingerlings split between the two tanks. They are now in the mud bottomed ponds. We have to plan how much to feed them, and which pond to put them in based on how fast, or slow, we need them to grow. In order to track this, we came up with a quick reference chart that can be updated readily. It's hanging in the feed shack. This reference will identify which pond what size of fish are in it, how many of them there are, when they were placed there, the last time it was cleaned, and what size of food the fish are currently eating. Its been pretty useful.
We have had guests in the Casita all week as well. Jeff and Jeannie joined us from Arizona. They had been traveling three weeks by the time they got to Hush Valley.
We didn't hesitate to give them the full experience. Jeff helped round up some fingerlings for a client that wanted 'baby fish'.
He also got a little bull wrangling action when the gate was left open and some stray cows came on in.
We were all richly rewarded for our efforts. On our way to a friends house in Copey for coffee, a few Quetzel were hanging out near the road. Watching cars go by. We were able to get up close and get some great shots of them!
We also took a trip to up to an incredible organic farm. Santa Cecilia. They grow completely organic, and believe in serving the local neighborhoods first.
We purchased some incredible fresas (strawberries), brocoli, coliflor, rabano ( radish), zanahoria (carrot), apio ( celery), papas ( potatoes) tomate, remolacha (beets), lechuga (lettuce), col rizada (kale) and pepino ( cucumber). We also stopped for some 100% organic apple juice. All of it totaled just over $15.00 USD.
They do a lot more than just vegetables there as well. They have chickens, sheep, goats, oxen, cows, etc. All fed organically. Its a pretty incredible operation, and we are happy to set up tours of the farm for our guests staying with us!
Lots of progress on the casita this week, and its looking really great! Everyday, its easier to see what a beautiful addition this will make to the farm. Check out our new Instagram page for updated photos of progress!
We made it! But you just never know.
The afternoon prior to leaving, we lost power. Unbeknownst to us, two rotted trees had fallen in the wind, and blocked the only current open road out of town. Our friend, Jonathon called and asked us to meet him with our chainsaw to come clear the roadway. Chainsaws are expensive here, and thus very valuable. We piled on the ATV and went down to get to work.
Wasn't long before multiple men and dogs showed up to check out the scene. After a bit, it was a little more like a chainsaw competition at our local county fair. A little less we- have- to- get-this- road- clear, and a lot more - Hey, check out what I can do with a chainsaw!
But, we got the road cleared in time for our epic first bus ride to the Big City the following day.
Taking the bus was actually quite comfortable. Not at all how they depict Central American bus rides in the movies, thankfully. What we had failed to factor in was ( and this is good to note if you ever plan to tour in Costa Rica), the bus depot is in San Jose. Even though the Airport is the 'Juan Santa Maria International Airport', the airport is actually in the neighboring city, Alejuela. Of course, we did not realize this until we were in the City with all of our luggage, many kilometers from the actual airport. So we grabbed a cab and headed that way. It cost about 13,000 Colones or about $23.00. Still, the trip cost under $12.00 per person, and we were pretty pleased with that. We would do it again without hesitation.
Our friend Elly, who owns the dairy with her husband Abel, picked us up from the airport when we returned yesterday. Sure made us feel like locals! We went by her city house in Santa Ana. She made us breakfast, and Quinn got to go swimming!
Her home is in a lovely Co-op neighborhood. We are finding that housing in Costa Rica is as diverse as the ecology. This neighborhood was originally developed for small vacation homes to escape the city. Now, its a residential neighborhood with a pool and many other amenities. It was lovely.
When we arrived in Santa Maria, we discovered there was a festival going on downtown. There seems to be a lot of festivals here. This is a largely Catholic country, and this is the week of Mardi Gras. There will be festivals downtown until Ash Wednesday. Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. I have provided a link to information about it for the unfamiliar. www.calendarpedia.com/when-is/lent.html
In the Catholic belief, Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.
This year, Lent falls on Valentine's day.
Saturday's festival featured an Ox cart parade. Ox carts are a tradition in Costa Rica. They have been used for centuries as transportation for goods and farming.
There were a lot of people at the festival. Partly because its coffee harvesting season, and there are a lot more people in the region, here to pick the coffee. Many people come from Panama to pick the coffee cherries. Many indigenous Costa Ricans also pick coffee.
These cultures are easy to spot as the women wear very distinct clothing.
It's the dressing style for the people known as Guaymies. They are the largest surviving native people in Costa Rica. In the 1960s, the Guaymas, also called Ngöbegues, emigrated from Panama to Costa Rica.
When we finally made it to our friend Allen's street, where our vehicle was parked, we found that the entry way to his road had completely washed out that morning. This happens occasionally in Costa Rica, we have found. Fortunately, Elly is savvy, and knew a back route. We retrieved our car and made it home safe and sound.
Casita Update- the frame for the new casita has been placed. It has a spectacular view of the rock garden and river! Work will begin in earnest this week with a completion date of March 1, we hope!
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for rapid build out updates!
Well, we did it. It was somewhat of a rite of passage really, as 'farmers'.
We butchered our first chickens. Remember, we hadn't really wanted meat chickens in the first place, its just how it worked out.
We had a pretty tidy set up in the garden shed on the island. After installing a new range/oven in the house, we had the previous range to spare. We set it up with propane and had two active burners for boiling water. There is already a cold water running sink in the garden shed, with filtered drainage.
We had stools set next to buckets for comfortable plucking. We had strings to hang the fowl from, should we prefer to stand and deplume. We had great music playing from the solar speakers, and it was an absolutely beautiful day.
No matter how comfortable the conditions, it doesn't really prepare one (or make a person comfortable) for the shock that butchering is.
I will spare you the gruesome details, but I will do some quick farm finance.
We had thirteen chickens. The yield on those thirteen chickens was almost 100 lbs. They were 15 weeks old, and consumed an incredibly large amount of corn grain. 50 lbs every two weeks. Based on the average price per bag of grain, each Chicken cost $13.83 from hatch to hatchet, but we also got the experience of butchering them ourselves.
Needless to say, our local butcher need not worry about us becoming competition. This will not be something we will be doing again, but we are grateful for the know how, should we ever need to.
For no other reason than we did not have enough freezer space in our micro fridge, we offered the chickens up to friends and neighbors. Seven different families enjoyed our Hush Valley Chickens, and we felt pretty good about that. Several people even sent pictures of what they were doing with their bounty.
New casita update: The lot is getting closer to completion, and the skeletal frame of the new casita should be in place tomorrow. The casita will be placed in such a position that, though it overlooks the rock garden and river, it is not visible from the original casita, nor the house. Each casita still retains the feeling of exclusivity and privacy, while having an uncompromised view of the beauty that is Hush Valley. We're pretty excited about that.
With school starting again in two weeks, we are headed out of town for a few days.
Hush Valley Lodge is about 2 hours from San Jose (Juan Santa Maria) Airport. We have driven, and found it's about $35 in gas each way, and $200 for a week of parking. $200 more if you go even one day into the next week. Its quite unaffordable.
We have taken a cab and found it's about $125 USD each way.
We have asked a friend to drive us. That cost about $40 in gas, and almost a friendship. Traffic was horrifying and the GPS got us lost several times.
So this time, we are trying the bus.
We went into Santa Maria today and purchased 3 future one way tickets on a direct bus to San Jose for $3.54 per person. I sure hope this works out, because that's much more affordable transportation.
January has kept us on our toes! It is traditionally one of the nice weather months, and it has been, yet the rain is still coming. We typically have a short sprinkle at least once a day. It isnt cold though, and though the sky may darken, it usually results in a rainbow.
We have had rainbows every afternoon for the past week!
We have had several guests in the past month and are expecting more this weekend. We have had some great suggestions about better signage, especially because the road we normally guide people to is closed for repair. We made some signs to place at intervals along the roads that lead to the elusive Hush Valley Lodge. On the US, blue and white road signs indicate services are ahead such as gas, food, and hotels. Though we aren't a hotel necessarily, we like that the blue and white are also very Costa Rican colors. You'll find many older structures use this combination of colors.
We also spent a few weeks with Peter, Jo, Molly and Gary. Plans were decided and arrangements made- all leading to the big news. They have broken ground on Peter and Jo's casita!
It will be located where the old wood shed was on the hill side, with an incredible view of the rock garden and river.
This casita is a steel frame, with framed rooms that fold out from the center to create a 600 square foot casita. Its difficult to describe, but we will keep you updated weekly via our blog, and facebook!
We estimate the casita will be complete by the end of March. Then, Hush Valley will have another lovely, yet still private casita for our guests to choose from. Exciting!
This week we transferred the frye -turned fingerlings- into the hatchery pond. Naturally, this piqued the interest of the heron, so it had returned to its station at the hatchery pond. Evidently, these fish are too small to be bothered with, so far, as the heron is now perched above the pond which houses the largest of our trout. We had also noticed a significantly smaller heron at intervals as well. It took far to long to realize that the smaller heron is likely the young of the larger, and that it is currently in its 'training to be a hunter' phase. He has competition though, as Dave and I spotted this hawk just hanging out above the same pond.
I find great humor in having come from the beautiful coastal Pacific Northwest, where we would delight in seeing a Great Blue Heron in the bay, or on the riverbanks while kayaking.
Here though, they are the bane of our existence as trout farmers.
There are officially 7400 small fingerlings after an official count this week. Even after the losses from the heron. These little creatures measure anywhere from 2-3 inches in length. The counting process was quite entertaining. Its should be noted, the count was far higher than expected. Evidently they always give a few hundred extra frye at the farm where we bought them, because the distance many people have to cover to get them, on such rough roads, will typically equate to some loss. It was a pleasant surprise.
The cats are settling in nicely. Coming around bit by bit. Bobbie still has a rather concerning interest in them, and their food bowl.
I had noticed that I hadn't seen any cat littler in the stores that we frequent. I finally asked at the feed store when I saw a small bag of sand that had a cat sticker on it. Apparently it is uncommon to have a house cat here in the mountains. Most cats are either indoor/outdoor or strictly farm cats that live outside, thus- no need for litter. A quick eyeball of the bag told me that it was simply river beach sand- of which we have plenty. So Dave built a cat box, and Quinn dug some sand. Voila! Cat box.
There are stores similar to Costco and Petco here, which undoubtedly have boxes and litter, but they're in Cartago or San Jose, much bigger cities. We have adjusted the old adage ' Necessity is mother mother of invention'. Ours is more like, 'Aversion to San Jose traffic is the mother of invention'. It is to be avoided at all cost.
( I find it funny that in this pic 1) the cat seems much friendlier than it is. 2) In the doorway you can see the ever present Bobbie wondering how the heck the cat was allowed on the bed. 3) You can see Dave's phone, and if you zoom in, you'll see a recipe for Banana pudding pound cake. I really REALLY hope that's in our future. :-))
Still no resolution on what to do about the massive chickens. One weighed in at 10 lbs! Remember- they're less than twelve weeks old, but they look like small turkeys. I'm hoping when partners Molly and Gary arrive this week, maybe one can act as the terminator, and we can try our hands at 'harvesting' a chicken. We shall see.
The pineapple is so sweet right now! Dave has been enjoying baking and experimenting with it. Last week he made Canadian bacon calzone. It was amazing! The following morning, we enjoyed Pineapple and carmalized brown sugar pancakes. No syrup necessary.
We finally decided to make our menu offerings to the casita, fluid. Certain things are better in certain seasons, and we want to offer the best peak season fruit and vegetables we can, and from the farm whenever possible.
What a month!
We have had guests in the Casita (some friends, some partners, some travelers) all but one day this month! Its been fun having company to hike with, fish with, paint with, and build with.
But having pleasant distractions hasn't slowed the farm down any.
The frye in the hatchery tanks have officially become fingerlings. They still require ground up food, but theyve definitely grown in size.
They will soon be ready to move to the hatchery pond. The advantage to this is that our ponds are mud bottom. This adds a degree of health to the fish as they have access to natural growing nutrients versus the concrete walls of a hatchery tank. It also allows the fingerlings to grow bigger, faster, with more room to spread out and get some swimming space.
The disadvantage is- though the pond is empty, there is a reason for it.
We have been having an issue with a Blue Heron the past few months. She has been shopping the Hatchery pond for every meal. Unfortunately, fingerlings are very friendly. They flock to whatever visitor they can see on the bank, thinking they are going to be fed, not that they will be the food.
We have tried using a fake owl, a scarecrow, and poles hung with empty bags. This heron is tenacious.
Finally, we found a simple deterrent. The incoming water was supplied by a culvert, into a low waterfall directly into the hatchery pond. We added a two inch pipe, lifted, so that the incoming water would continuously break up any surface tension and obscure the view of the Heron. Herons are wading fish that spear their prey with their long bills, but they have to see the fish to catch them. This change up worked.. for about two days.
The heron then just moved on to the hatchery tanks. She figured out out to spear the fish through the mesh covers we had, but she couldn't get the speared fingerlings out of the small hole she had fit her bill into. We were finding a dozen or so fish per day, dead in the tank with holes in their sides.
A simple changeover to a smaller mesh was completed and we have seen less Heron action since. Of course, now there is a small hawk watching the 'teenagers' in the Cedro pond.
Its always an adventure.
The fish aren't the only things growing.
The chicks we got in the last week of October, are huge! In ten weeks, they have outgrown the red laying hens we have.
Dave and I have incubated chicks in the past, and had successful hatches with generations of chickens. But neither of us have ever seen such awkward, hungry, fast growing chicks. They literally sit at the feeder all day, everyday, and eat. So we decided to do some checking on their breed. .
One very distinguishing trait is, they have massive feet and legs. It sort of explains their awkwardness, but it doesn't really explain their mental deficits. They aren't smart. At all. The red hens are rather crafty, and seem to have it together, but these big white ones..just don't. After a quick internet search, it appears they are meat hens, not laying hens as we had anticipated. A hybrid Cornish hen cross. Unlikely they will lay normal sized eggs, if at all. They grown fast and are basically ready to butcher now, which is great, but we aren't really chicken killers.
We will need to get a fresh batch of hatchlings, as we are now ten weeks behind for new layers.
The gardens are getting big too! The tomatoes and corn have flowered, melons and zucchini are growing, and we have already harvested peas and green beans. There is a healthy amount of onions, leeks, and herbs ready too.
We are readying two more beds for planting now, Hopefully, they should be ready to go when these current plants are exhausted.
This week, we adopted two cats about 4 months old. They are still getting acquainted with their new home, and Bobbie, but will be nice working additions to the farm.
Casita season is in full swing now, though our spring break week booking, did just cancel. Anyone needing a bit of summer in their lives?
Happy New Year to all of our valued clients, neighbors and friends. May 2018 be exactly what we all aspire it to be.
Hush Valley hosted our first guests of the season!
We were thrilled to be enjoying the company of Bernie, Bernie, and Joe.
After a harrowing trip, they arrived in the dark, hungry and tired. They were still interested in our legendary trout dinner though.
Unfortunately, fish dont eat in the dark but we were able to net us a few beautiful trout in the dark.
They werent staying but one night, so we packed as much action as we could in a few hours.
This included a trip to Roberto's place.
Roberto uses our Hush Valley trout to smoke, and sell at market.
Roberto has also recently been using our trout roe to create trout caviar!
I think we were all hesitant to try it (Especially Joe!), but it was truly a delicious treat.
These guys had a sense of adventure! Bernie Sr., and Joe had no idea where they were going or what they were doing- just that they were headed to Costa Rica.
Roberto gave them a 'trout 101' course, the morning they were departing.
We all bought some smoked trout, and we made smoked trout Quesadillas later that day. (Smoked HVL trout, cream cheese and cilantro spread, pico de gallo, onion, tomato and sour cream- delicious! ).
At times, its hard not to interject when a guest only books for one night. There is so much to see and do in Rio Blanco. All natural entertainment and real, rural Costa Rican living happens up here in the mountains. Far from a 'tourist' type area.
If you are thinking about joining us at Hush Valley lodge, our recommendation is to stay at least two days- you wont regret it!
We welcome Bernie and his fun crew back to Hush Valley anytime!
After the hurricane, we had a fair amount of downed trees on the property. Rather than let them sit, we chose to integrate them into our current project.
Using an Alaskan chainsaw mill, Jonathon, Martin and Dave milled up some beautiful lumber!
The colors in the wood made some beautiful boards.
We aren't loggers, and have no desire to harm any of the fabulous flora/fauna here, but downed (non-native) trees are fair game for projects here.
With all of the rain we have had, followed by several beautiful weeks of sun, the flowers are out in full force. Check out these beauties, and then check out Quinns latest blog post at www.thecostaricakid.com
David and I were able to return to the States for Thanksgiving. I come from a large family and holidays have always been important to us. We were very grateful to have such proficient help at the farm-Martin, Jonathon and his wife Jessica. It made leaving, even for a short time, much less stressful.
Of course, given that we live in paradise, it isnt as though we needed a vacation. So we made the most out of our time and visited a fish farm in our local area in Oregon.
It was fascinating to me for several reasons. Legend has it, that the origin of trout in the mountainous regions of Costa Rica, was from trout eggs imported from Oregon directly to our Hush Valley ponds.
I also found it interesting that though we passed Gnat Creek Fish Hatchery (while living in the States) at least once a week, I had never been there.
What a great place! We had a very well educated staff member show us around and explain how/what they do there.
They specialize in supplementing the Salmon runs, but they also have steelhead and sturgeon.
They grow the hatchlings from eggs, in large trays with a gravity fed water system.
Fun fact: Egg bearing female fish are called Hens.
We really enjoyed our 'fish hatching 101' course, so when we returned, we jumped in- both feet, and bought 5000 fry. Martin and Dave went to the hatchery here in Costa Rica, and also had a tour of their facility.
The process is a bit different, but so is the scale.
This hatchery is a business, supplying fry to many/most of the mountain farms.
Gnat Creek supplements natural runs for release into the wild.
The trout fry here are kept in tanks. They are shocked with electricity while in the zygote stage , to make them all female (or try anyway). Females are advantageous as they have more capacity for meat, and grow to a larger size. They are shocked again later in their development in an effort to make them sterile. Sterile females are ideal because their abdomen fill with trout meat versus eggs.
The fry are sent home in large plastic bags, about 1000 in each. We then transfer them to our hatchery tanks, and grow them the rest of the way
We had noticed that our trout meat is more pink, like salmon, even when cooked . I asked the guide about the difference. I was told that the color comes from an algae containing astaxanthin. This chemical compound is a keto-carotinoid. Its the same algae that shrimp and salmon eat that give them their pink color. Mountain trout in Oregon do not have the same access to this algae, and thus their meat is much whiter in color.
Armed with our new information, we decided to give it a go. We selected 20 adult hens. Hens must be at least a year old to be able to spawn. We also pulled several males. The hens are kept in a new/old pond that hasn't been actively used in a decade or so.
We are hoping to do our first batch of Hush Valley 'start to finish' trout in March.
We will keep you posted on that.
Next blog, we will talk about our first guests of the season! Spoiler alert- they were great!
We will have updates on our new project (its a big one!) AND possibly, a guest blogger too, as partners Peter and Jo will be joining us in just over a week.
Thanks for reading!
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Dave and Krista are a couple from the Pacific Northwest that led overwhelmingly busy lives.
Click here to pick up your copy of Anne's book! It's all about their adventure and the establishment of Hush Valley Lodge: from leaving their middle-class suburban lifestyle in Canada to reinventing themselvess in the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica. Check it out and if you enjoy it, please spread the word! Thanks!